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HomeBusinessExclusive: Dirty money, dirty deeds at casino next to BC Liberal gambling minister’s 2015 party

Exclusive: Dirty money, dirty deeds at casino next to BC Liberal gambling minister’s 2015 party


Bob Mackin

Exactly 24 hours before Mike de Jong supporters gathered at a Richmond casino’s dinner theatre to celebrate the BC Liberal’s two decades in the Legislature, someone may have tried to launder $60,000 at River Rock Casino Resort.

The Abbotsford MLA was responsible for gambling regulation during his 2012 to 2017 tenure as finance minister. On Jan. 14, 2015, he was the marquee attraction at the “20th Anniversary in the Legislature Roast.” The organizer was former de Jong aide Dave Cyr, who had registered two months earlier to lobby de Jong on behalf of River Rock parent, Great Canadian Gaming. The roast raised $5,000 for the Abbotsford Hospice Society. As reported last year, River Rock waived its venue fee, but charged standard food and beverage rates.

Clark appeared at de Jong’s roast in River Rock.

Documents obtained by under the freedom of information laws show a large, suspicious cash transaction took place at 8 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2015 in River Rock.

“[Censored] bought in $60,000 in two separate buy-ins using 1,500 x $20 on each occasion for a total of 3,000 x $20,” said the report.

Canadian $20 bills are the currency of choice for money launderers. Police were not called, but a form was filed with the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch under section 86 of the Gaming Control Act.

Just six months later, River Rock took-in a whopping $13.5 million in $20 bills, according to a 2016 report by MNP for GPEB. The BC Liberals suppressed the MNP report, but the NDP made it public in September 2017, triggering a chain of events that included the damning money laundering studies by ex-senior RCMP officer Peter German and a panel led by ex-deputy minister Maureen Maloney.

German’s June 2018-released report linked casino money laundering with the real estate industry and the illicit drug trade. Last week, Maloney’s panel estimated $7.4 billion was laundered in the B.C. economy in 2018.

The NDP cabinet is expected to endorse a public inquiry into money laundering at its May 15 meeting.

Marquee promoting the de Jong roast (Markus Delves/Twitter)

At 9:15 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. on the night of the de Jong roast, two persons, whose names were also withheld by the government, were asked to leave the casino because they were on B.C. Lottery Corporation’s list of banned gamblers.

Early on the same day, at 1:50 a.m., “Three unknown [censored] males was [sic] filming in the high limit room. Cash cage areas.”

The night before de Jong’s roast, at 8:42 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2015, a report said a person passed approximately $10,000 in gambling chips to another person.

Just before 3 a.m. that day, a person assaulted a security guard after being asked to leave due to intoxication and attempting to drive. Police were not called.

The de Jong roast included appearances by Premier Christy Clark, press gallery veterans Vaughn Palmer and Mike Smyth (who performed a Coach’s Corner-inspired skit), and NDP house leader Mike Farnworth. 

In an early 2018 interview, Dermod Travis, of government accountability watchdog IntegrityBC, said a charity roast involving politicians is appropriate if all the funds raised in excess of the cost go to the charity. “It becomes an issue when you do it in a facility that you have regulatory oversight for,” Travis said. 

Travis wondered why de Jong’s roast didn’t happen closer to his Abbotsford riding, in a venue without a casino.

Between April 2015 and May 2017, Great Canadian donated more than $120,000 to the BC Liberals. 

A May 2011 B.C. government news release heralded a $3.5 million taxpayer grant towards the hospice society’s $7.5 million fundraising goal for the two-storey, 28,500 square foot hospice. In March 2015, a news release announced another $2.5 million grant and said the society had raised $10 million. It also said construction started in 2013 and the 10-bed, 30,000 square foot hospice would open in 2015. 

The hospice finally opened in April 2016.

Justin Fung of HALT with the trophy given to BC Liberal $5,000 donor Ethan Sun in 2016 (Mackin)

Coincidentally, the Abbotsford Hospice Society’s audited financial report for 2015 said that it agreed, on the same day as the de Jong roast, to a $4.3 million B.C. Housing loan at an RBC prime minus 1.75% interest rate. The minister responsible for B.C. Housing was Rich Coleman.

Coleman shut down an RCMP squad in 2009 after it warned organized crime had infiltrated B.C. casinos. In 2016, de Jong announced the formation of the Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team. New, NDP-mandated rules aimed at determining the source of gamblers’ funds led to a 16% decline in table drop at Great Canadian’s B.C. casinos last year. 

The de Jong roast wasn’t the only major BC Liberal event at River Rock.

In November 2016, Clark and Richmond MLA Teresa Wat, the BC Liberal international trade minister, held a fundraiser at the casino. It was the same week that Poly Culture, a company related to China’s People’s Liberation Army, opened an art gallery in downtown Vancouver.

Trophy given to BC Liberal $5,000 donor Ethan Sun in 2016 (Mackin)

Activist Justin Fung, of the Housing Action for Local Taxpayers (HALT) group, has the ultimate souvenir from Wat’s November 2016 River Rock fundraiser. Fung snagged a trophy with the “Today’s BC Liberals” logo that was presented to Chinese entrepreneur Yi An “Ethan” Sun of bankrupt tech startup Istuary Innovation Group.

Fung won the trinket on an eBay auction with a US$102.50 bid. The trophy names “Istuary Group Holdings Ltd.” and is inscribed as follows: “In Recognition of your support for Premier Christy Clark, the Honourable Teresa Wat, and the Richmond Centre BC Liberals Winter Celebration and Fundraising Gala, Nov. 26, 2016.”

The Elections BC database shows a $5,000 Sun donation to the BC Liberals, dated Nov. 30, 2016. He also donated $1,756 in 2015 and 2017.

The event grossed $169,800 and netted $124,450.42. The Elections BC filing shows 205 individuals and 157 corporations bought tickets for $388 or $500.

“It almost feels a little bit dirty to have it in my possession, the kinds of things it represents, pretty appalling,” Fung said. “I’d happily donate that to a  museum if that was an exhibit they wanted to put on. The offer is out there.”

Istuary was lured by HQ Vancouver (whose head was future Trudeau-appointed senator Yuen Pau Woo) and given tax credits through the controversial Advantage BC scheme. A lawsuit alleges that Sun fled to China, Istuary investors lost $18 million and that the company was really a front for immigration fraud. 

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